What on earth is Cendol?
Cendol (sometimes spelled Chendol) is a shaved ice dessert covered in jelly-like colorful toppings, coconut milk, and gula melaka (palm sugar syrup). Wikipedia feels the need to clarify that it contains “worm-like green rice flour jelly”, but we think the description sounds better without that detail. Although it is not inaccurate.
Which part of the world can you find Cendol?
It’s in a number of places in Southeast Asia, popular in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and other countries. Apparently different countries have different versions and fight about it, and CNN managed to offend Malaysia by calling it a “Singaporean dessert”. Suffice it to say it’s a tasty iced dessert and you can find different varieties all over SE Asia!
Where is our favorite Cendol?
Obviously, the best Cendol is a matter of opinion, and we have to add a disclaimer that we only tried it in three countries. We primarily got it in Malaysia, trying over a dozen, but most of the ones we got in Malaysia had chunky ice with a lot of liquid, and were more soup-like. You could take a spoonful of ice and liquid, but it was not reminiscent of ice cream, and the ice had a chunky texture. It was more of an iced liquid dessert.
Bukit Timah Hawker Center
We much prefer the thin and smooth shaved ice style, more like a Taiwanese shaved ice or a Japanese Kakigori. In that regard, the Cendol we got in Singapore at the Bukit Timah Market Hawker Center (look for the green “Nyona Chendol” sign) was a very clear winner for us. It had incredibly smooth snow-quality ice and loads of toppings.
This is the only Cendol we got in Singapore, so we’re not sure if the smooth shaved ice is characteristic of all Cendols in Singapore, or just this one. Please comment to let us know!
There are lots of other delicious vendors at the Bukit Timah Hawker Center, our other favorite being He Zhong Carrot Cake mentioned here, so you can go for dinner and dessert!
Where else can you get Cendol?
Jonker 88 Cafe
The Jonker 88 Cafe in Melaka, Malaysia was a close second, and the best Cendol we had in Malaysia. It had very smooth shaved ice and delicious thick palm sugar syrup. Though I didn’t get any toppings, they were available, including durian, and some girls kindly gave me their durian after trying and disliking it 🙂
Penang Road Famous Teochew Cendol
The “Penang Road Famous Teochew Cendol” in Georgetown, Malaysia is one of the best known Cendols in Malaysia, and unfortunately we really didn’t care for it at all. We even tried it twice to make sure the first wasn’t just an anomaly. It tasted good, but it was basically soup with chunky ice, and the ice melted quite quickly; too much liquid-to-ice ratio. The Jonker 88 Cafe was much, much better.
We also got it in Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores in Indonesia, or at least something that vaguely resembled Cendol with different toppings such as Milo powder and cheese?!? Yes, and cheese. This was fun, but the ice ball was too hard to be scooped, and basically had to be smashed apart. This probably isn’t technically Cendol, but it was similar enough to be worthy of inclusion. This was the only dessert place we could find in Labuan Bajo.